The San Francisco 49ers are in the “elite” tier when it comes to the defensive trenches. That’s the good news.
After all, with Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead becoming mismatches along the line, plus with Charles Omenihu adding length and Samson Ebukam providing an extra edge rush followed by the long list of defensive line options from there, it’s easy to see why the 49ers are in the elite category.
But here’s the bad news for the 49ers Faithful: As deep and loaded this unit is, they’re not the No. 1 overall defensive line heading into the 2022 season by one national website.
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Where the 49ers Rank in the DL Category
Pro Football Focus unveiled their list of top defensive line rankings on Tuesday, June 14.
Noticeably left out of the top five by PFF — the 49ers, who came in at sixth overall.
How can a lineman-oriented defense be left out of the top five? Especially when that group accomplished the following during their run to the NFC title game: Produced 48 regular season sacks, then added 12 more during the playoffs including five in back-to-back victories over Dallas and Green Bay plus lastly, saw eight members of their trenches produce a sack? Ben Linsey of PFF explained that the unit faces questions inside.
“The 49ers have one of the deeper edge rotations in the league with Samson Ebukam, Drake Jackson, Charles Omenihu, Kerry Hyder and Kemoko Turay all competing for snaps on the edge. Nick Bosa will not be in that competition coming off a 2021 season where he ranked seventh at the position in PFF grade, as he’s one of the best all-around edge defenders in the NFL,” Linsey began. “Arik Armstead is expected to move back to a primarily interior role, where he’s been better as a pass rusher than run defender over the last four seasons. With Javon Kinlaw yet to establish himself as an above-average starter on the interior, defensive tackle stands out as the one potential weak point of this unit.”
A Dive Into the Interior
Yes, Kinlaw hasn’t become “established” yet. Largely due to his ACL tear from a season ago as well as past ailments.
However, Kinlaw has morphed his body during the offseason — with The Athletic’s Matt Barrows describing him as an offensive skill position player while answering some mail bag questions from Friday, June 10.
“He’s perhaps 10 to 15 pounds lighter than he was when he weighed 324 pounds at the combine two years ago, but I think what we’re seeing is that he’s significantly leaner than he’s ever been. I was standing next to the weight room Wednesday when he emerged. I thought the team had brought in a new tight end,” Barrows explained. “I was struck by his long-armed, long-legged silhouette, which wasn’t what you saw in previous years. You saw bulk.”
Barrows compared the new Kinlaw to the physique of Armstead and Ex-49er DeForest Buckner, with Barrows guessing Kinlaw will be “quicker than he’s been.”
Outside of Kinlaw and Armstead, the team will be tasked to replace key interior disruptor D.J. Jones, who signed with the Denver Broncos in the 2022 offseason. Jones secured his big pay day following a career year in tackles including stops behind the line of scrimmage.
Sixth rounder Kalia Davis out of Central Florida is projected to help fill that void. Executive director of the Reese’s Senior Bowl Jim Nagy loved his disruptive side:
A wildcard, though, could be undrafted rookie Kevin Atkins from Fresno State. Atkins was an All-Mountain West Conference performer and, as the first part of his film against Oregon suggests, he brings a disruptive side that can blend in inside the 49ers’ facility:
Who Rated Ahead of the 49ers?
So the 49er defensive trenches have a top 10 unit by PFF standards, but not top five.
Who rated higher than the ‘Niners? The Tampa Bay Buccaneers claimed No. 5, with a defense that just added prized free agent Akiem Hicks to join rising star Vita Vea.